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A Scion of Broadcasting’s Past and Future

Related: An Industry Leader—and Cheerleader

Bill Hoffman, the recently retired president of Cox Media Group, has long been known as one of broadcasting’s bests — a fervent industry advocate and a good guy who looks out for his brethren in the business.

Yet being named the Broadcasters Foundation of America’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award winner does put Hoffman in a whole other echelon, one reserved exclusively for the business’s savviest, most influential leaders. The legendary Dick Clark was the three-year-old award’s first honoree; last year, it was long-time CBS newsman Charles Osgood.

Dan Mason, chairman of the Broadcasters Foundation, said Hoffman fits in with that company well.

“As a member of our board for several years, Bill has helped us advance our mission of helping every broadcaster who qualifies for help,” Mason said.

All of which makes perfect sense, considering that broadcasting—the business, as well as the responsibility that comes with it—has been part of Hoffman’s life since childhood.

His dad, Peter, was a partner in the country’s very first TV news consulting firm, McHugh and Hoffman. Broadcasting, and all that surrounds it, was a regular part of dinnertime conversation.

Tuned Into Digital Future

Hoffman has proven himself to be a strategic leader able to usher the breadth of local media—TV, radio and newspapers—into the new era of websites and mobile apps. Doing that at Cox was an enormous undertaking. The media group’s portfolio runs far and wide, consisting of 14 TV stations, more than 60 radio stations, six daily newspapers and more than 100 digital operations.

Hoffman’s career at Cox started in 1979, when he was an account executive with TeleRep in Detroit before leading sales operations at TV and radio stations around the country. He was the company’s executive VP of broadcast before becoming president of Cox’s entire media group.

Related: A Friend Indeed to Broadcasters in Need

Throughout his career, Hoffman has served the industry and the larger community through service. He is on the boards of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and American Rivers, as well as BMI, the Associated Press and the National Association of Broadcasters. He also is actively involved with the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and the ABC Board of Governors, which he used to chair.

But beyond that, Hoffman retains an enormous commitment to securing the industry’s future. In fact, he retired from Cox in January only after hitting goals he says prepped the group’s properties “for exciting things going forward.”

Hoffman counts ramping up the digital presence of Cox brands, building out TV stations’ news offerings, creating verticals for the company’s newspapers and starting Videa, the automated TV-sales platform, among those achievements. All of these accomplishments, he said, reflect today’s requirement that local media be “ambidextrous” if it’s going to give consumers what they want.

Executing While Innovating

“On one hand, you have to focus on the core business, and keep the core alive with relentless execution,” he said. “But simultaneously we had to [infuse] all our workplaces with entrepreneurism and the spirit of innovation.”

Yet even those far-reaching business challenges are not great enough to rock the heart of local media’s strength and reliability in holding the larger community accountable.

“That’s part of democracy,” Hoffman said. “It’s the balance of power and a form of that, serving the local community, is always going to be there. It’s just a matter of what form it continues in.

“Since Jefferson and Adams, there has always been something that has to be the public crier who is shining the light…who holds government officials accountable…that is a place where whistleblowers can go...and for people who don’t have a voice,” Hoffman added.

Hoffman said local broadcasting’s long history of cultivating, and maintaining, viewers’ confidence will be instrumental in the medium’s long-term prognosis, particular in an age of fake news and half-truths. Yet it is not impermeable to outside factors.

“You can make a lot of deposits on goodwill over decades earning trust,” he said. “And it can all go out the window when trust is violated.”